Without Kyle Schwarber on this year's Cubs team, other aspects of the club are going to have to step up to make this year's squad a consistent winner.
Saturday night in Phoenix, Kyle Hendricks and the pitching staff showed their ability to do so, and they were backed by timely hitting and some key defensive plays in a 4-2 win over the Diamondbacks.
Keep in mind that Hendricks is "officially" the team's fifth starter. That was a heck of a performance by a "fifth" starter. Hendricks, as usual, didn't have great velocity but kept having the D'backs hitters bang the ball into the ground, as 11 of the 20 outs he recorded were on ground balls. He also struck out five. A two-out double in the seventh kept him from becoming the third Cubs starter so far in this young season to go seven full innings. (But, all five Cubs starters went at least six in their first outing, an excellent performance.)
Adam Warren, who, yes, still exists, made his Cubs debut flawlessly, retiring all four hitters he faced and Hector Rondon had a classic Rondon save -- just 10 pitches to finish off the D'backs. It was his 60th career save, which ties him with Phil Regan for seventh on the Cubs' all-time save list. Next up: 1950s-1960s era hurler Don Elston with 64.
Meanwhile, the offense had no problem solving Zack Greinke, at least early on. Four straight hits and a sacrifice fly scored three runs in the first inning off Greinke, who had been hit pretty hard in his first 2016 start, too. The Cubs plated another run off Greinke in the fourth on a walk and a double by Ben Zobrist, who wound up with three hits on the night. Greinke did pretty much settle down after the first inning and struck out eight overall.
But the Cubs made him throw a lot of pitches, 100 in all, and drew three walks on the evening, giving them 26 in five games. That figure leads all big-league teams. I doubt the Cubs can keep up a five-walk-per-game pace, but this is an excellent sign for a Schwarberless team, that they'll still be able to score runs by piling up large numbers of baserunners.
Hendricks was helped out by a couple of fine defensive plays. I'd show them to you here but once again, MLB's inscrutable embed-code policy has struck, so there are only links.
This win felt a lot like many down the stretch last year. The Cubs took an early lead and then simply shut down the other team; even when a bit of trouble arose, the bullpen closed the door. More of this, please.
The Cubs wore their blue road alternate jerseys Saturday night despite Friday's loss. I thought they might switch to the road gray after the defeat just to change things up, but another uniform story is the Diamondbacks. What is this team doing with uniforms? They have worn three different jerseys in the three games of this series, and according to this photo gallery they have no fewer than eight different uniform styles (and it appears that there was a still different style worn in Friday's game).
I am well aware that doing this sort of thing is meant to drive merchandise sales. But for the D'backs fan, what is the identity and color scheme of their team? Is it the dark red? The bluish teal? The old-style look from the 90s? Wearing black?
I'm not a big fan of the Cubs' blue alternate jersey, as you know. But at least their color scheme is consistent, home and road.
Sunday's game could result in something we have seen just once since 2003 -- a Cubs series win in Chase Field. Since 2004 the Cubs are 16-27 in the house of pain in Phoenix (not even including the division series losses in 2007), and have one series win, an inexplicable sweep in 2010. Jake Arrieta gives the Cubs an excellent chance to post that series win. He'll face Shelby Miller, who, like Greinke, had a rough first start. The game preview will post at 1 p.m. CT.